Monday, August 4, 2014

"Wish I Was Here" Comedy with sad undertones

Director: Zach Braff

Cast: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Jim Parsons, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, James Avery, Donald Faison

Review by James Colt Harrison

A few years ago young actor/writer/director Zach Braff was praised for Garden State, his first feature film. Whether it was a stroke of luck or just plain talent, the film put Braff on the map as a young new director to watch. This is always dangerous for a young director because the second creative output is always looked upon with more harshness than anyone should have to endure. Critics are now scrutinizing Braff’s Focus Feature Wish I Was Here and are expecting it to be as good as was Garden State.

Aidan Bloom (Braff) at 35 is still a struggling actor who yearns to have his dream come true. He has difficulty getting cast and is usually the wrong type. In one funny scene he auditions for a film, with such stalwart actors as the late James Avery, for a part for which he is obviously unsuited. Bloom is rather messed up psychologically as he is trying to find his own identity while trying to be a father and a husband. Wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) is a bland blonde in a sea of Hollywood blondes. The film doesn’t give her much to do except support her husband’s dreams. Aidan’s trying to find a purpose in life, but Sarah doesn’t seem to have an interest in her own. She seems to be content raising the children.

Aidan and his father Gabe, played by Broadway veteran Mandy Patinkin, have never seen eye to eye. What they do agree on is that the children be sent to a private school, for which grandpa has always paid. Unfortunately he is ill and can no longer afford to pay for the children’s education. Aidan attempts to home-school the kids and it turns into a hilarious disaster. The scenes between Braff and Patinkin have a ring of truth. Braff’s character desperately wants approval from his father, but dad thinks acting is a silly profession to persue, and that attitude breaks Aidan’s heart. As an actor, Braff has a puppy dog cuteness to his manner and we can’t help but like him, even when he is being unreasonable. The film wavers between drama and comedy, with the comical scenes lightening what could ultimately turn into a tear-jerker.

TV’s Jim Parson comes in for a few cameo scenes to add some laughs but it doesn’t advance the plot, nor should it. Parson is a brilliant comic actor and should be given his own film in which to shine.

Aidan’s errant and good-for-nothing brother Noah is played by Broadway’s Josh Gad. He’s good at playing unshaven slobs, and this part is perfect for his comic abilities. Noah doesn’t want to have anything to do with his father because he feels he never got any support from him while growing up. Thus, Noah avoids going to the hospital when is father is dying. It’s not nice but it’s understandable from the son’s point of view.

Kudos must go to Patinkin as a generally unlikeable character.  He’s terrific as the tough old Jew who won’t compromise his expectatons of what he wants his two sons to become. He would be a good choice as a nominee for Best Supporting Actor at next year’s Oscar® event. Patinkin had his first success onBroadway playing the part of Che Guevara in the hit musical Evita. For that role he won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor. Barbra Streisand cast him in her 1983 film Yentl.  He returned to Broadway to star in the Pulitzer-Prizewinning musical Sunday In The Park With George Then he made the comedy movie The Princess Bride in 1987. He has appeared in such films as Dick Tracy with Warren Beatty and Ragtime with James Cagney.

The film is certainly light-hearted and has plenty of comedy to amuse. But it has many dark sides to the story which may not coincide with the audience’s expectations from a Braff movie. There are far too many “F” words that are totally unnecessary to the story. It’s half comedy and half drama, and the audience will have to decide whether it’s better to have a half loaf of something or a whole loaf. Focus Features/Worldview Entertainment.

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